What Is Dark Social?
Social media is all about sharing. As social media marketers, we love looking at the analytics of this sharing. We measure shares, retweets, click-through-rates, open rates, and more. All to figure out what content is working, show that social has a good ROI, and support our overall marketing strategy. But sometimes people share in ways that can’t be tracked and that’s where dark social comes into play.
The term ‘dark social’ was first coined by Alexis Madrigal in an article for The Atlantic in 2012. In a nutshell, dark social is any sort of private online sharing, including email, private browsing, and personal messaging apps. You know how you share that cute cat video via Facebook Messenger or shoot that event via iMessage – those are both examples of dark social.
So without the ability to track what content is being shared, we’re not getting the full picture and that can cause problems when evaluating content, planning budgets, and truly knowing how content is performing.
Why Should You Care About Dark Social?
In the four years since ‘dark social’ was coined, mobile messaging has exploded. For instance, 14.7 trillion mobile messages were sent in 2012. In 2017, that number is estimated to grow to 28.2 trillion. Mary Meeker’s 2016 Internet Trends Report found that messaging apps like WeChat and Facebook Messenger are growing rapidly, evolving, and becoming the new homescreen. In fact, a list of the top ten apps most used globally, six of them are messaging apps.
What does this mean? There are more ways and more people than even sharing information via dark social.
- A report from RadiumOne published in June 2016 found that 84% of consumers’ outbound sharing takes place via dark social channels (like messaging, email or text.) This is up from 69% in 2014.
- 62% of clickbacks occur on mobile. People are reading what’s shared on their phone vs. their desktop.
- While only 19% of internet users aged from 16 to 34 exclusively share through dark social, a whopping 46% of users aged 55 and older solely rely on dark social to share content.
- Certain topics are more likely to be discussed using dark social, such as pets, careers, and travel.
- 27% of all Americans exclusively share content via dark social, without ever using platforms like Twitter or Facebook!
That’s exactly why dark social matters. Even the best web analytics programs are unable to track where the majority of your traffic is coming from, and that makes it even more difficult to learn how to fine-tune your online outreach.
Everyone knows that social media platforms are excellent places to share certain pieces of content, but as long as other sharing technologies exist, people will use them.
How To Fight The Dark Side
If you can’t beat them, join them and give in to the dark social. People inherently connect and share on a one-on-one basis. Furthermore, issues surrounding privacy play a role in what people share publicly or what tools they use.
However, there are a few key techniques that you can use to lure people away from dark social:
- Always provide social media buttons for viewers so that it is effortless to share your content to Twitter, Facebook, etc. It’s possible they still may privately share from the Facebook button but you’re setting yourself up for shares. Place them at strategic locations, such as the top and bottom of the page, so people don’t have to scroll or search.
- Include buttons that allow visitors to share links via dark social platforms, like email.
- Shorten your URLs. Studies have shown that people are far more likely to click and share short links over lengthy ones.
Measuring Dark Social
While dark social is a bit of a black box for tracking, there are some things you can track:
- Bitly is an excellent tool that will shorten your links and track them. If you include bit.ly links in a Facebook post and someone copies and pastes that link into Messenger, bit.ly tracks when the person on the other end clicks it.
- Simply Measured recommends using a Last Social Touch attribution model. By using this model, you can ask and answer: “What was that last social touchpoint?” They go on to say that this can happen at any point in the customer journey – very early or very late and let’s you “paint the biggest picture of social’s impact.” We recommend reading their blog post that dives into all the various social media attribution models for the nitty gritty.
Dark social is not going away and will continue to grow. However, as technology emerges, we wouldn’t be surprised to see new tools and concepts to better track this data and get more in-depth analytics. RadiumOne promotes their ability to turn your dark social into actionable results.
In the meantime, it boils down to content. Your content needs to be interesting, informative and original and that will make it shareable. Don’t be afraid if that share comes from your brand’s Twitter account or a message in WhatsApp. Your message is still getting across.